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Demystifying Sourdough – Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Sourdough Starter – Why It’s Better for You and How To Start One

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Page 10

Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter

There are no bubbles in my starter 

  1. Your starter probably needs to be fed. Yeast can only produce carbon dioxide if it has a source of sugar to consume. Feed your starter with equal weights of flour and water.

I fed my starter and there are still no bubbles or rise 

  1. If your starter is new, continue to feed it based on the timeline instructions above. Hopefully within 14 days you will see signs of the yeast and bacteria colonizing and becoming stronger and more active. If the starter has been refrigerated for a long period it may take several feedings to “wake up.”

There is grey or brown liquid on the top of my stater

  1. This liquid is called “hootch.” It is a byproduct of an underfed, over-fermented starter. It will smell strongly of alcohol and while unpleasant in appearance, it cannot hurt you. You can pour it off and discard half of your starter before re-feeding or stir it back into the starter for a very strong sour flavor.

There is mold on my starter

  1. Unfortunately mold spores can contaminate a starter through the flour, water, or air. In this case, it is best to discard the contaminated starter, wash all sourdough utensils thoroughly, and replace it with a fresh starter. Keep your new starter as active as possible. The production of acids in the fermenting process will prohibit mold growth.
  2. The Healthy Sourdough Starter Series, Episode 1: Mold

My starter smells like alcohol

  1. When all the sugars in the flour have been consumed the acids will start to become alcoholic. A starter that smells strongly of alcohol needs to be fed! Feed your starter with equal weights of flour and water.

My starter is bubbly but it won’t rise bread

  1. In the early stages of sourdough baking this can be a real problem. It happens to all of us. A sourdough starter needs to be used often, fed often, and kept at a warm room temperature.
  2. Double feed your starter for three days.
  3. Make sure to remove starter every time before feeding. This will give the remaining yeast more food sources and encourage the strong yeast to multiply.
  4. Make sure you’re storing your starter in a warm environment that encourages the fermentation process. If you keep your house cool, try placing your starter or bread dough in the oven with the light on.

Troubleshooting Your Bread Dough

My dough is too sticky during the mixing stage

  1. Is your starter 100% hydration? If not, it may have a higher hydration than the recipe that you are trying to duplicate. Double-check the recipe instructions to find out if you are supposed to have a starter or leaven at a specific hydration. Most of my recipes call for starter at 100% hydration. Go to Page 8 of this guide for more on hydration levels.
  2. Sticky dough is often a sign of an immature sourdough starter. If it seems like it stays sticky for more than 2 hours, even after kneading or shape and fold, and it is not developing gluten or starting to rise, then you need to work on your starter. Make sure you feed your starter 4 to 8 hours prior to baking. It should double or triple in volume during this time. If it does not double or triple, start discarding and feeding that baby every 12 hours until it does! Go to page Page 8 for more on feeding starter.

My bread was rising fine but became very sticky and hard to work with at shaping time – 

  1. This could be caused by an overpopulation of bacteria that are souring your bread too quickly and breaking down gluten strands in the process. We strive for a balance between yeast and bacteria, but often, especially with starters that don’t get used regularly or are young and underdeveloped, the bacteria is out-competing the yeast for sugar. The result is a sloppy, over-proofed mess at shaping time. To diagnose if the bacteria are out-competing the yeast pay close attention to your starter. If it smells or tastes very sour, develops hootch, or won’t rise within 4 to 8 hours there is a good chance your yeast strains are weak and the starter needs work. To remedy this problem feed that starter every 12 hours until it is doubling within 4 to 8 hours consistently!
  2. If your bread had a good rise and is still holding gas but got sticky while shaping, then it may be overworked. All bread dough requires a very gentle touch at this stage. If you break the gluten strands at the shaping stage by overworking the dough it will get sticky, flatten out in a blob, and won’t look smooth. To avoid this problem pull the dough gently when shaping, just barely stretching it; if it starts to tear you are overworking it. If you feel like you didn’t get it tight enough, don’t worry about it, there is always next time. A gentle touch and smooth dough will always rise better than one that has been overworked with broken gluten.

I need to fix my overworked dough

  1. Gather the dough back into the bowl and let it rest for at least 1 hour or until you see it start to rise again. At this point, turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and very gently and loosely shape the dough. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes and gently shape it a little more. If you even see one tear, STOP. Put the dough in a floured banneton or loaf pan and let it proof again either at room temp or in the refrigerator as the recipe instructs. This might not be your best shaped loaf, it’s ok, this is how we learn to handle the dough!

Adjusting Recipes, Substitutions, and Conversions

You will inevitably come across recipes you want to try but won’t have the exact ingredients on hand. It’s ok! Sourdough is very versatile — you just need to follow a few simple rules and your baking intuition.

Rule #1. Not all wheat flour behaves the same –

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t experiment with fancy heirloom flours, freshly milled grains, or fun additions. It just means don’t expect the same results that the recipe shows if you adjust and substitute ingredients.

Heirloom grains may need more or less liquid hydration depending on the variety. So if you are substituting a different flour than what the recipe calls for, always start with 75% of the liquid and see how the dough feels. You can always add more hydration if you need to.

Rule #2. Whole grains won’t rise quite as much – 

This is due to the way gluten in flour works. Gluten is long strands of protein that trap carbon dioxide. If there is bran from the outer husk of the grain in your flour it will disrupt those long gluten strands, making them shorter and resulting in a more dense bread.

Don’t expect a light, lofty, open crumb when you use more than 50% whole wheat.

Rule #3. Adjust recipes with texture and hydration in mind –

Once you’ve made a few loaves of well-developed bread you will start to identify the texture of a properly hydrated flour. In my experience, when fully mixed and kneaded, sourdough bread dough will be tacky to the touch but not overly sticky (unless the recipe says it should be as with my English Muffins). If you have lots of whole grains or rolled grains in the dough then you can get away with a tad more hydration as some of that will get soaked into the grains during the bulk ferment.

Rule #4. Always use your intuition –

Good bakers rely on their senses because they know that ingredients, temperatures, and conditions change. So always pay close attention to the little details like how your starter behaves, how your bread rises, how long it takes for the starter and dough to double, how fast it browns in the oven at different temperatures, how long it takes to bake through, what flours you like, and so on. If you pay attention to all the details like this you will have a deep understanding of your sourdough starter and that will give you a thorough knowledge base for your intuition to draw from.

Rule #5. Don’t be afraid to fail –

Sourdough baking is so much trial and error. Not every recipe will work. Sometimes you won’t get consistent results. But if you keep working at it I guarantee that after some practice you will develop your own style of baking and you will make wonderful nourishing sourdough bread!

Watch the way I handle the dough in this video:

Need More Help?

I am now offering private or business consultations via Zoom. Email me at for rates and to schedule a face-to-face meeting where I will personally answer all your questions!

This is your guid to everything sourdough!

Page Guide

Page 1. Intro
Page 2. What Is Sourdough?
Page 3. Bread Terminology
Page 4. Why Eat Sourdough?
Page 5. Tools
Page 6. Starter Recipe
Page 7. Fresh Starter vs. Discard
Page 8. Starter Hydration & Feeding
Page 9. Favorite Recipes
Page 10. Troubleshooting Sourdough
Page 11.  Starter Insurance Policy
Page 12. Using Stale Bread
Page 13. Recipes You Don’t Want To Miss


Saturday 25th of February 2023

What is the difference between bread flour and home ground 100% wheat flour? Thank you for your help.

Butter For All

Monday 27th of February 2023

Hi Cathleen!

Bread flour is in most cases a hybridized wheat with a high protein content. Typically it is either sifted or hulled to remove the outer bran and keep the soft, white, inner starch. The high protein content translates to higher gluten development and a more open crumb structure.

Home ground wheat flour can be any wheat variety you choose, but it will have 100% of its hull ground into the flour. So it will have more vitamins and minerals, more flavor, translating to a higher chance of spoilage due to the increased oil content, and more anti-nutrients that will need to be taken care of with soaking, sprouting or souring. It's best to keep whole wheat kernels and fresh ground flour in the refrigerator or freezer. Or only grind as much as you can use in a few days. Whole wheat flour will create a bread that is much more dense with less gluten development, but a lot more flavor and nutrition.

I hope that helps!



Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

Hello Courtney, I started my sourdough starter journey last week. I used day 1 50g of whole wheat flour and 50g water, day 2,3 and 4 i used ratio 1:2:2 (25g starter, 50g flour and 50g water). It was doing very well day 2 (almost rised twice by 24 hours), day 3 rised less but bubbles were there, day 4 the same. Am I feeding it too much? You have a different ratio in your recipe - 50g starter, 25g flour and 25g water. Temperature in my kitchen is between 70-72 degrees

Thank you for your advice! Ella

Butter For All

Monday 27th of February 2023

Hey again! I answered you in the previous question, but I will say that the temp could be increased to really favor the yeast. Check out the temperature inside your oven with the light on. If it's between 80-95℉ you could keep your starter in there while it becomes established. If it's too warm in the oven, try cracking the door to see what temp the oven stays at.


Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

Hello Courtney, I started my sourdough starter journey last week and I'm on day 4 now. It rises less then before and it troubles me. I used 50g whole wheat flour and 50g water 1st day. Next days I used ratio 1:2:2 (25g starter, 50g flour and 50g water). I noticed that you used a different ratio in your recipe - 50g starter, 25g flour and 25g water. Am I giving him too much in my feedings?

Thank you, Ella

Butter For All

Monday 27th of February 2023

Hi Ella!

Sorry for the slow reply I recommend a 1:2:2 ratio for reviving a dehydrated starter, but for starting a starter from scratch, I like a 2:1:1 ratio. This ensures the yeast (who may be struggling to reproduce quickly) aren't getting overly diminished with each feeding. It's really very normal for you to see a big rise in the first day or two when the bacteria isn't as established, followed by a slower period of yeast growth as things start to balance out and the lactic acid starts to build. The yeast have to adjust to this new acidic environment. Hopefully you kept going and are starting to see some consistency with rising. I think you could continue with a 1:2:2 ratio (there is no definitive ratio) or try reversing it to see what works best in your situation. I hope you'll follow up to let me know how it goes!

Best of luck,



Sunday 15th of January 2023

Hello!l Courtney!

I am a beginner and I appreciate your very thorough articles. So helpful and something I plan on sharing with my daughter. 😊💕

One request… when viewing your articles on my iPhone, the DO NOT SELL tab blocks the left side of the screen making it difficult to read all of your instructions. If there is any way you could move that tab to another location, it sure would be helpful.👍

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to being your student!

My Best, Wendy

Butter For All

Wednesday 18th of January 2023

Hi Wendy,

Thank you for your thoughtful note, I love hearing that you are getting your daughter involved in cooking and baking!

I'm so sorry there is a tab blocking you from accessing the site correctly. I'm not sure what the "Do not sell" tab is. So would you mind grabbing a screen shot and emailing it to me at please? I will check it out and see if it's something I can fix myself!


Sunday 7th of August 2022

Hi Courtney!

I’m very new to the sourdough world and am doing some reading before I fully commit. With your starter recipe, what size of glass container do you use? Some have said it can more than double in size... I want to have a big enough jar but not too big... Also, would a plastics twist lid work? I’m thinking it would breathe very well?

Thanks for being such a thorough sourdough resource for this newbie!

Butter For All

Thursday 11th of August 2022

Hi Sarah!

Welcome! Typically I use a quart jar or larger. I like to have lots of starter on hand for many baking projects. But it really depends on how much you want to keep. You can always switch containers if you need to make more or less. You are right, a plastic screw on ball jar lid works great! I also like locking lid jars with the seal removed. You'll have to keep me posted on your progress!!

Happy Baking,


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